Lythe, long and strong would be some words that may describe River North Dance Chicago‘s Gretchen LaWall* in action, either on stage or in the classroom. Recently, I had the pleasure of viewing her Fletcher Pilates® class at River North’s Teen Intensive. There was a quiet but fierce depth of concentration in the room as dancers focused on Gretchen’s encouraging but firm instructions. I caught up with her later and talked to her more about Fletcher Pilates®, purposeful movement and the power and curse of being a perfectionist in dance.

If you could name one thing that Fletcher Pilates® helped change in your dance, what would it be?

Fletcher Pilates® changed my approach to movement and thus my ability to execute specific movement, especially transitions between shapes/steps. Dancing is much more personal for me than just “monkey see, monkey do.” As dancers we all experience simply trying to recreate what we see in front of us. The artistry comes into play when we are able to integrate deeper, more personal thought into the movement.

There is a Fletcher Pilates® Fundamental called “Integration of Hemispheres.” I have a short torso and very long arms and legs. One challenge of mine as a dancer has been learning to control my limbs and use them efficiently. Fletcher Pilates® challenges me to explore, refine and expand movement in all of my hemispheres. By breaking down the movement and looking at what’s happening in each area or hemisphere of the body (right/left and upper/lower) we can better see how the arms can help to improve the height of a jump or the position of the pelvis can change the way the body balances during a turn. When we integrate and challenge our hemispheres to come together in multiple situations, we embody the Fletcher Pilates® Movement Principle of Balance which leads to uniform muscular development, physical stability and a stronger all around technique. Not only does this enable us to dance well, but also provides a body with integrity that is less prone to injury. It’s like an insurance policy for your dance career!

Is there one Fletcher Pilates® exercise or concept that you could recommend for someone who is struggling with developpe croise in the center?

I would recommend Leg Circles and Side Kicks from the Matwork and Magic Circle standing abduction and adduction. The concept I would recommend would be the integration of hemispheres. Anything that is going to help to activate your sense of midline. You want to make sure you can maintain integrity of shape and energy especially while standing on one leg.

How do you deal with a perfectionist who becomes frustrated when coming to Pilates for the first time?

I am pretty sure you just described every dancer’s first experience with Pilates. Dancers are perfectionists. They just are. It’s a power and a curse. We must be open-minded. The only way to achieve “perfection” or to at least work towards it, is to become AWARE of your IMPERFECTIONS. Many feel self-conscious, frustrated, etc. The sooner you can face your insecurities, the sooner you will start seeing improvement! The key is becoming aware of your own facility, for we are all beautifully unique.

How can Fletcher Pilates® help develop ones stage presence?

Fletcher Pilates® helps build confidence and assurance in movement ability and capability. We all know confidence changes the way one comes across to an audience. Stamina is an important tool as well. Imagine how someone’s stage presence may differ if they start huffing and puffing because they are tired. Also, just learning to “pull up” and stand tall helps with stage presence. Body language is a real thing. Slumped shoulders, etc. will read completely different from a lifted sternum and a long neck! Well maybe you want to “slump” and then Pilates will give you the tools to properly contract and flex the spine.

Where can dancers go to take Fletcher Pilates® classes?

I am a Fletcher Pilates® Qualified Teacher and teach at Helios Center for Movement in Roscoe Village.

The most distinct differences between the Fletcher work and other styles of Pilates are Fletcher Towelwork® and the use of Fletcher Percussive Breath™.

I have pulled some quotes from our company website. Please visit the links below for more information about our Chicago studio as well as Fletcher Pilates® in general!



“Ron Fletcher was an American Pilates Master Teacher, an author and a former Martha Graham dancer. He was also a Broadway stage, network television, cabaret and International Ice Capades choreographer. Fletcher is identified as a “Pilates Elder” – a “first-generation teacher” who studied directly under Joseph and Clara Pilates…”

“In body, breath, mind and spirit we preserve the inspired evolution of Body Contrology, the work of Joseph and Clara Pilates, as articulated by our Master Teacher, Ron Fletcher. As he mentored and taught us, so we will teach and mentor others in the physical transformation that leads from strength to balance to grace.”

“The international Pilates revolution owes much of its momentum to Ron Fletcher. A 20-year student and protégé of Joseph and Clara Pilates, Fletcher’s organic, movement-based approach to the original Pilates method has inspired generations of Pilates teachers and practitioners.”

2258 W. Belmont Ave

Chicago, IL 60618
Janna Zaffino, Owner

“Our staff comes from a vast background of experience and education in Pilates, Dance, Fitness, Theater and Movement Therapy. We believe in upholding the integrity of the classical Pilates work, while implementing modern ideas of functional, free movement to address the specific needs of the client.”~ Melanie Rockwell, Studio Manager


*Gretchen LaWall is a River North Dance Chicago company member as well as a Fletcher Pilates® Qualified Teacher.

*Gretchen LaWall is a River North Dance Chicago company member as well as a Fletcher Pilates® Qualified Teacher. Photo courtesy River North Dance Chicago

Related Links:
River North Dance Chicago
Helios Center for Movement Chicago
Fletcher Pilates® International